Like a wave, the fungal disease that wipes out frogs—chytridiomycosis—is advancing through the Central American highlands at a rate of about 30 kilometers per year. After the disappearance of Costa Rica's golden frogs in the 1980s, Karen Lips, associate professor of biology at the University of Maryland, quickly established a monitoring program at untouched sites in neighboring Panama.
Of the 63 species that she identified during surveys of Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park located in El Copé from 1998 to 2004, 25 species disappeared from the site in the subsequent epidemic. As of 2008, none of these species had reappeared there.
Were there additional species in the park not previously known to scientists? To find out, the authors used a genetic technique called DNA barcoding to quickly estimate that another 11 unnamed or "candidate" species were also present. In DNA barcoding, short genetic sequences that uniquely identify known species are generated and stored in public databases. By comparing DNA profiles from unknown organisms to the databases, researchers can identify biological specimens quickly, and construct genetic lineages. Combining the field data with the reconstructed genetic lineages, the authors discovered that five of these unnamed species were also wiped out.
"It's sadly ironic that we are discovering new species nearly as fast as we are losing them," said Andrew Crawford, former postdoctoral fellow at STRI and member of the Círculo Herpetológico de Panamá, now at the University of the Andes in Colombia. "Our DNA barcode data reveal new species even at this relatively well-studied site, yet the field sampling shows that many of these species new to science are already gone here."
An epidemic that wipes out a whole group of organisms is like the fire that burned the famous library of Alexandria. It destroys a huge amount of accumulated information about how life has coped with change in the past. Species surveys are like counting the number of different titles in the library, whereas a genetic survey is like counting the number of different words.
"When you lose the words, you lose the potential to make new books," said Lips, who directs the University of Maryland graduate program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (CONS). "It's like the extinction of the dinosaurs. The areas where the disease has passed through are like graveyards; there's a void to be filled and we don't know what will happen as a result."
"This is the first time that we've used genetic barcodes—DNA sequences unique to each living organism—to characterize an entire amphibian community," said Eldredge Bermingham, STRI director and co-author. "STRI has also done barcoding on this scale for tropical trees on in our forest dynamics-monitoring plot in Panama. The before-and-after approach we took with the frogs tells us exactly what was lost to this deadly disease—33 percent of their evolutionary history."
The U.S. National Science Foundation and the Bay and Paul Foundation funded the field work for this study, which is published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Collection permits were provided by Panama's Environmental Authority, ANAM.
STRI, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website: www.stri.org.
The University of Maryland Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (CONS) Graduate Program trains leaders in conservation biology and development programs and provides them with the multidisciplinary, conceptual and experiential learning experience necessary to address the biodiversity crisis that now faces the planet. Website: http://cons.umd.edu.
Ref: Andrew J. Crawford, Karen R. Lips and Eldredge Bermingham. 2010. Epidemic disease decimates amphibian abundance, species diversity and evolutionary history in the highlands of central Panama. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. online Early Edition, week of July 19.
Lee Tune | EurekAlert!
Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
15.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard
New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
15.12.2017 | Louisiana State University
DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.
Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences
15.12.2017 | Life Sciences